South African President-elect Jacob Zuma assumes political power on Saturday, 9 May 2009 riding on a sixty-five percent-but-less-than-two-thirds majority mandate. Shortly after the pomp and ceremony, his life at the helm begins in earnest in a fiery cauldron of popular expectations.
The majority of South African voters may have snubbed the rival Congress of the People [COPE] with a distant third place position and a seven per cent share of the political cake, yet this will hardly exonerate Zuma. More importantly, Helen Zille’s Democratic Alliance [DA] will colonise 67 seats after increasing its voters by over one million, giving her more leverage to fan the flames of legitimate dissent whilst gnawing at the power base of the larger-than-life African National Congress [ANC].
Most South Africans interviewed say they voted for Zuma’s ANC because the party still has a greater propensity to fulfil electoral promises. Yet despite the gains made in his Kwazulu-Natal home ground, the general whittling of votes from that party reflects an incremental bewilderment with an ANC establishment struggling to keep citizens pacified. A sweeping assumption here is that the Zuma courtroom drama took its toll on the party’s reputation. Some argue that his unclear ideological positioning that inconsistently swings from right to left made it easier for the non committal party faithful to switch sides. Others though, maintain that ANC radicals Julius Malema, Blade Nzimande and Zwelibanzi Vavi put off prospective sympathisers with their leftist dogma. Moreover, the DA “Stop Zuma” lobby is said to have been one of the sleekest electoral campaign by a Southern African opposition party. In its own sinister way, the ‘misfortune’ that befell ANC’s electoral juggernaut is a blessing in disguise for African democracy that can only thrive with multiple parties.
When Zuma gets to his office on May 11 2009, he will be confronted with a folder of unfinished business relating to the South Africa Municipal Workers Union driver strike for higher wages. Moreover, feminist advocacy group, Gender Links, has fired salvos on dissatisfaction with ANC’s gender policies, threatening to put Zuma’s polygamous exploits under further constitutional scrutiny. More answers will be required on crime, homelessness and a system that is gobbling up three hundred million Rands in unemployment benefits while the tide of HIV and AIDS infections is showing no signs of receding. Further down the line, it will be interesting how his government will finance a health and education system that is starved of qualified professionals.
On the regional front, Zuma has to contend with despatching restive arch-rival Thabo Mbeki to manage an increasingly fractious inclusive political arrangement across the border in Zimbabwe. Zuma has always argued that his party’s ‘quite diplomacy’ failed to reign on Robert Mugabe’s political excesses, but with signals showing a possible conclusion towards regional integration under the Common Market for East and Southern Africa [COMESA] framework, Zuma is unlikely to want to antagonise his regional partners. The Southern African Development Community – Council for Non Governmental Organisations [SADC-CNGO] recently made an assessment that the other thirteen members in SADC are uneasy with South Africa’s brand of exported economic and cultural imperialism. However, in the face of a vicious global recession and a declining market of hard goods in South Africa, Zuma is well-advised to keep his regional colleagues accommodating rather than defensive. In any case, balancing the demands for free trade, insulating industry from a crippling influx of cheap goods from China and resisting protectionist tendencies will take more than chanting liberation war songs!
Yet the question still lingers: will Africa ever embrace Jacob Zuma as much as they pampered the ego of Nelson Mandela and stroked the intellectual prowess of Thabo Mbeki? After all, these erstwhile Zuma predecessors can claim to have done what he can only dream of – iconic symbolism of the struggle against Apartheid, receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize and also being credited with the African Renaissance as part of the New Partnership for African Development [NEPAD]. The answer is: unlikely.
My submission is that Africa South of the Sahara is exasperated with ex-revolutionary political domination by the likes of ANC [South Africa], ZANU-PF [Zimbabwe], BDP [Botswana], Frelimo [Mozambique], CCM [Tanzania], SWAPO [Namibia] or KANU [Kenya]. Uganda, DRC, Rwanda, Lesotho, Swaziland and Angola all have ruling parties that have strong ties with the ‘revolutionary’ past. At a time when enlightened Africa was hoping that Zuma’s ANC would for the first time in a decade, share real political power, the echoes of domination still inundate the subcontinent. What this means is, according to members of civil society organisations, both the AU and SADC will keep shifting towards clumsy elitism that protects the interests of ‘old boys’. Developments in Madagascar and Zimbabwe reflect a desperate desire for political transformation outside the well-trodden paradigm of post-colonial hangover.
But then political miracles have been known to happen. For a long time, ANC’s pre-independence swan song was leftist pro-socialist rhetoric borrowed from liberation ties with the Soviet Union. However, when Nelson Mandela stepped out of Robben Island, his brand of inclusive government and racial tolerance gave birth to a new term – the rainbow nation. This is a system that even allowed an eccentric ‘tribe’ of Boer fanatics to establish Orania, their own ‘homeland’ in South Africa, unthinkable even by Mugabe’s primitive standards. Before long, multi-national corporations were laying siege to South Africa’s stock as free markets reigned supreme. Although the populist element in the Communist Party and Congress of SA Trade Unions [COSATU] rang alarm bells on increasing poverty and crime levels, both Mandela and his successor Mbeki stuck to the pro-liberal agenda. By introducing high-sounding terms like BEE [black economic empowerment] and RDP [Reconstruction Development Program], the ANC sought to narrow the gap of poverty. What we do not know is how much Jacob Zuma, even as vice-President contributed to South Africa’s intelligence of economic resurgence and global competitiveness.
But what we know is he has been portrayed as a not-so-educated, conservative but vocal adventurer who claims morsels of royal blood in his tribal veins. The Zulu traditional governance system is identified more with hereditary patriarchal chieftainship and military aggression than participatory tolerance. Therefore, whether or not Zuma will depart from this stereotype and tolerate effective opposition from COPE and DA or simply get Africa to pay more attention to him, time will tell.
Rejoice Ngwenya is President of Zimbabwean think tank Coalition for Liberal Market Solutions and an affiliate of African Liberty.